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HomeGeneralU.S. Sanctions China-Based Hackers for Allegedly Targeting Infrastructure

U.S. Sanctions China-Based Hackers for Allegedly Targeting Infrastructure

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The United States has sanctioned China-based hackers for allegedly targeting U.S. critical infrastructure. According to the Treasury Department’s announcement on Monday, March 25, 2024, The U.S. and the United Kingdom sanctioned some representatives of Wuhan Xiaoruizhi Science and Technology Company Ltd. (Wuhan XRZ).

A picture of the China-based hackers
Source: thatviralfeed/X

The Treasury Department alleges that the Wuhan, China-based Ministry of State Security (MSS) front company has served as cover for multiple malicious cyber operations. According to the department’s report, Wuhan XRZ and its contractors were behind some malicious cyber operations. 

These include the 2020 spear-phishing operation against the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. Before the sanctions, security leaders had consistently warned that Chinese state-affiliated actors were carrying out cyber operations in the U.S.

In addition to the sanctions, the Justice Department indicted seven foreign nationals on Monday concerning the crime. They claimed hackers tied to the Chinese government targeted high-ranking U.S. politicians, businesses, and critics.

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Furthermore, federal prosecutors alleged that the yearslong scheme aimed to attack crucial pieces of America’s infrastructure. During the indictment, the justice department said White House officials, U.S. senators, defense contractors, journalists, and technology companies were among thousands targeted in the cyber operation. 

The DOJ indicted Zhao Guangzong, Ni Gaobin, and five other defendants for alleged involvement in Wuhan XRZ. Attorney General Merrick Garland condemned the Chinese government in a statement. He said the department will not tolerate the Chinese government’s efforts to “intimidate Americans who serve the public.”

Furthermore, Garland said it proves the extent to which the “Chinese government is willing to go to target and intimidate its critics.” The indicted foreign nationals include Ni Gaobi, 38, Weng Ming, 37, Cheng Feng, 34, and Peng Yaowen, 38. Also, the department indicted Sun Xiaohui, 38, Xiong Wang, 35, and Zhao Guangzong, 38.

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Over the course of three presidential administrations, they allegedly targeted U.S. government officials and critical infrastructure when there were perceived anti-China policies. The indictment states that “these computer network intrusion activities resulted in the confirmed and potential compromise of work.”

The Justice Department said the group, APT 31, operated from 2010 until this year. Hence, they targeted politicians and other prominent U.S. officials by purportedly posing as journalists. Court documents said the hackers would then install a “tracking link” on an email of the work of the journalist they were pretending to be.

“If the recipient activated the tracking link by opening the email,” the court documents state. “Information about the recipient, including the recipient’s location and IP addresses, was transmitted to a server controlled by the Conspirators.”

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The documents said they used that method to enable more “sophisticated targeting of recipients’ home routers and other electronic devices.” In 2020, the group allegedly targeted a presidential campaign. Also, in 2022, according to court documents, they emailed officials in the Senate, State Department, and Commerce Department.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo also had her emails targeted just before she visited China last year. Following the Justice Department’s announcement, Chinese Embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu debunked the allegations. He said China “firmly opposes and cracks down on all forms of cyberattacks in accordance with law.”

“Without valid evidence, the U.S. jumped to an unwarranted conclusion and made groundless accusations,” Pengyu said. “And opposed illegal and unilateral sanctions against China, which is extremely irresponsible.” Pengyu added, “China firmly opposes this and will firmly safeguard its lawful rights and interests.”

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